Caribbean Scholars Decry Violence on UPR Campus

Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American scholars have been expressing outrage at the recent escalation of violence towards students on strike throughout most of the University of Puerto Rico system, especially at the main Río Piedras campus. Respected anthropologist and professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Mercedes López-Baralt, writes:

 In democratic assembly, students of the University of Puerto Rico have decided unanimously to continue the strike. The University Administration, which took so long to engage in dialogue with them, interrupted negotiations and now wants to remove the students from the campus, where they have been living for over two weeks surrounded by the police. How? By removing water and electricity [and by] banning mothers, parents, relatives, and citizens, who come in solidarity bringing food [she is referring to recent harassment and arrests of parents bringing food to their children; see related video below]. Without realizing it, the government has transformed the students into mythical heroes. This inhumane siege reminds us of older cities, Sagunto and Numantia, which we recognize today as metaphors for freedom. While the police are provided with sustenance and authorities rush to La Fortaleza [governor’s headquarters] to develop strategies with which to replace dialogue, increasingly more urgently, the subversive bottles of water fly over the UPR gates. Eduardo Galeano said, when speaking of the Uruguayan repression in the years of dictatorship: “Water was prohibited. But they could not, because nobody can, prohibit thirst.”

Bahamian scholar Ian Bethell Bennett, also professor at the UPR, joins the many voices in expressing indignation at the repressive measures. He compares the situation to events in Tiananmen Square and the government’s tendencies as reminiscent of military dictatorships around the world:

The images of the riot police inflicting state condoned violence against the students at UPR evoked profound sadness. [. . .] Violence has no place in dealing with youth, especially when they are exercising their right to demand an education. How sad it is that these young people are now called communists, irresponsible and trouble makers for their insistence on being able to afford to study in a state-run, public, institution. How can their effort be characterized as irresponsible? Rather, the use of violence to squash people’s expression of their desire for their rights is irresponsible.  

[. . .] Since violence begets more violence, the state-sanctioned violence inflicted on Puerto Rican society, daily, only guarantees more expressions of violence. Admirably, the students have managed to take the higher road so far, and we hope this continues. Other sectors of society, when faced with violent exclusion, may not be so organized or focused and fall back on the only way they know how to respond, with violence.

[. . .] Is the role of the state to create an atmosphere of fear through violence and intimidation — as Gov. Fortuño’s implicit threat to UPR students in his budget address — or is it to foster peaceful democracy through proactive public policy and citizen-based development?

This video shows police arresting a father who brought food to his son at the campus gates:

For full article, see http://www.prdailysun.com/index.php?page=perspectives.article&id=1273695039

Also see recent article on the latest confrontations at http://www.prdailysun.com/news/UPR-strike-flares-as-Police-move-in

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